x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Milan and Maldini prepare for the end of an era

Tonight at the San Siro, fans of Milan say goodbye to the Italian defender who made his league debut when Ronald Regan was the American president.

Marcel Desailly, the Frenchman who in the mid-1990s shared a pitch for Milan with Paolo Maldini, came up with nice phrase for his colleague, then in his late 20s. "The face of angel, and the physique of a model," said Desailly. The remarkable thing about Maldini is that, in his 41st year, it is still true. Tonight at the San Siro, fans of Milan say goodbye to Maldini and this farewell has more symptoms of permanence than his earlier commitments to finally retire on a remarkable career. The longevity of his professional life and high standards is stunning: Maldini made his league debut for Milan on the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term as US president. That's how long ago it was: 1985, Maldini aged 16.

He is Italy's most capped player, a rarity in that his entire career has been spent at only one club. He was born to it, the son of a Milan footballer, Cesare Maldini. But Maldini's timing was good. Under Silvio Berlusconi's patronage and the coaching of Arrigo Sacchi, the finest club team of the past 20 years was built, their momentum maintained by Fabio Capello. Between 1989 and 1995, Milan appeared in five European Cup finals. Between 2003 and 2007, there would be three more.

There will be tears today at Milan against Roma, some shed by fans not even born when a good-looking boy came on as substitute left-back at Udinese nearly quarter of a century ago. The man with the looks of an angel and the body of a model will be moist-eyed, too. "I'm feeling some strong emotions," said Maldini. Football will not see his like again. ihawkey@thenational.ae